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early socialization is a must

Strategies for socializing the litter help ensure each puppy a bright future — whether as a show dog, performance competitor, or pet.

Whether home companion, show dog, or performance dog, early socialization and mental conditioning is a must for puppies.

Socialization methods and advice abound in books and on the Internet. Many studies have shown that it is critical to handle puppies regularly from the earliest age. Once their eyes are open, an easy and fun socialization exercise is simply to get down on the floor and play with the puppies. My husband is great about letting the babies crawl all over him. It’s something both he and the puppies enjoy—although he’s gotten a few “pierced ears” in the process.

And I know that I’m not the only one who sings to my puppies. I even make up special lyrics to familiar songs for my entertainment as much as theirs.

Tiny ones can be started on the grooming table as soon as their eyes are open. I keep in the puppy room a ringside table used for toy breeds, so it is easy to pop each baby on the table a few times a day for a few seconds at a time. Once they are eating solid food, a tasty treat, such as a little piece of cheese—and a big helping of praise—can help to instill positive memories of the table that may help make future grooming times more pleasant for all.

We host “meet the puppies” parties for each litter, inviting friends and family to come and greet the new arrivals. Since we don’t have children at home, young guests are particularly welcome. We hold the party when the puppies are between 6 and 8 weeks old. There is always an ex-pen with shelter available so the puppies can have frequent breaks between play and affection sessions. Of course, we keep a close eye on both human and canine little ones to ensure that everyone is “playing nice.”

Long walks, runs, or any type of forced activity isn’t recommended for growing bones. However, a short stroll around the neighborhood or at the park is another good way for puppies to make new friends. I know many people who also like to take their puppies to pet-supply stores that welcome four-legged customers. This is another good way to meet new people—all undertaken once the appropriate vaccinations have been administered.

What about timid puppies? Some puppies can be intimidated by new situations, and all can go through a fear period, so we are careful to treat these babies especially gently and encourage rather than force them to experience—and ultimately enjoy—new situations. Taking the time to learn what your puppy loves and then using that thing he loves as a reward is a time-proven method of reinforcing “brave” behavior.

Of course, taking show prospects to handling classes as soon as they are old enough is important. However, if you don’t have a class nearby, playing dog show with a friend or family member to act as “judge” is effective when coupled with other activities where your puppy can encounter strange people and dogs.

Whatever the method you choose, early and regular socialization—along with teaching of basic manners—will help your dog grow into a stable and happy companion. —Julie Lux, American Foxhound Club

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